The Effects of the Digital Age on Cognition

Readers of the healthy memory blog should know that the concept of transactive memory includes the use of technology to foster the development of healthy memories and efficiently functioning human cognition.  Some day, I hope to write that book.  It is easy to find references that tout how technology can foster cognition, but reviews of the effects of technology tend to be negative.  The motivation for this post stems from my reading of a book by Mark Bauerlin, “The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future [Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30].  I don’t recommend this book as reading it would be a waste of time.  I question the purpose of diatribes that inform us that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  What are we to do with such a message?  Outlaw technology? It seems like it is incumbent upon the author to offer some solutions.

An earlier blog post, “Notes on Reclaiming Conversation:  The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” reviewed a book by Sherry Turkle of the preceding title.    Ms Turkle sounded similar alarms, but also offered some solutions.

The same basic theme pervades both books, namely that digital technology leads to a high level of connection to many sources and individuals, but to a superficial level of cognition.    I am convinced that this a real problem.  Moreover, it is covered by the veneer of technology which leads many to the conclusion that something valuable and substantive is being accomplished.

Mobile technology has prospered because of a perception that we need to keep connected 24/7.  Is there really such a need?  What is so imperative that it will not wait until we have the time and resources to devote adequate attention to it?  One of the most flagrant examples of this are mobile apps that allow trading on your smart phone.  Although this might be a need for sophisticated day traders, for most people all this provides is a tool to lose money more quickly.

There have been a number of posts on Dunbar’s Number (to see them enter “Dunbar’s Number”  into the healthy memory search block).  Dunbar’s Number refers to the number of friends we can effectively have.  Good friends require an investment of time that needs to be carefully considered.

Similarly the capability to gain access to a large amount of information in seconds is limited by our cognitive capacity to process this information.  The problem is that we fail to process information critically.  There is a lack of critical thinking.  Our proneness to be cognitive misers leads us to search for information that is in accordance with our own needs and beliefs.

So what is the solution, or rather what are some solutions?  First of all, let me suggests previous posts on the Elements of Effective Thinking and using digital technology of facilitate the use of these elements.  I  would also suggest entering “Critical Thinking” into the search block of he healthy memory blog, and consider how technology csn foster critical thinking..

Shooter games likely sharpen perceptual motor skills.  Why not games that sharpest the development of cognitive skills”?  Why not the development of multi-player games that foster decision making, problems solving, risk assessment, collaboration, and so forth?

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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